It’s estimated that around 1.5 to 4 of all babies born in the United States are diagnosed with cerebral palsy, either shortly after birth, or within the first 12 years of childhood. Around 7% of these children will develop autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). One form of autism, known as Asperger’s Syndrome, or simply Asperger’s, is a common neurotype associated with cerebral palsy.
What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
According to the Asperger Autism Spectrum Education Network (ASPEN), Asperger’s is a neurobiological developmental disorder of the autism spectrum disorder. Autism encompasses wide area of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, and Asperger’s is on the milder end of the spectrum. Children with Asperger’s are often said to be on the “high-functioning” end of the autism spectrum.
High-functioning, however, can mean many different things to many different people with Asperger’s. It can mean a mixture of different abilities, as well as disabilities, for each person. For example, while one person with Asperger’s may read at an advanced level in one subject, another person may have extreme difficulties grasping the concept of the subject. A Tumblr user with autism indicated that saying that all people with Asperger’s are high-functioning creates unwanted labels.
Like most autistic people I have a mixture of difficulties and abilities. I don’t really like functioning labels and neither do lots of other people on the community because we find that people tend to make assumptions about us that are incorrect and unhelpful.”
Children (and adults) with Asperger’s can have extremely high IQs. In fact, some children with the disorder do so well in school that they’re considered academically gifted, and often become bored in mainstream classes. Yet, while they may excel in school subjects, specifically the subjects that hold their interest, most children with Asperger’s have difficulties in social situations and relating with their peers.
Asperger’s Syndrome Symptoms
Difficulties socializing is a big indicator of Asperger’s, but just because a child has problems making friends and relating to peers doesn’t automatically mean that they have the disorder. The only way to truly know if someone has Asperger’s is to get a formal diagnosis from a qualified physician. However, there are signs and symptoms to look out for, and if you’re concerned, the best thing to do is bring the issues up to your child’s doctor.
Additional symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome may include:
- Lack of eye contact; a child with Asperger’s may glaze at you instead of looking you directly in the eye
- Failure to express appropriate emotional and/or social reactions
- Participating in repetitive activities, such as lining up toys over and over, in the same exact manner
- Fascination with certain subjects and objects, to the point of excluding everything else. An example would be a preoccupation with flags or maps.
- Clumsiness and awkwardness in motor skills
- Extensive vocabulary
- Tendency to take things too literary, such as jokes and sarcasm
- Impaired language skills, such as volume, intonation, and rhythm
- Different patterns of learning (example: learning to walk before learning to talk)
- Inappropriate interactions with peers, but often close relationships with immediate family members
- Extreme interest in letters and numbers
- Uncontrollable outburts when angered or agitated
Asperger’s Treatment Options
There is no cure for Asperger’s, but there are a number of different therapies and other treatment options that can help children. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) suggests that there is no single form of treatment that works best, since children with Asperger’s can be vastly different. However therapies that focus on communication skills, obsessive/ repetitive routines, and physical clumsiness are considered ideal types of treatment.
NINDS also states that in order for treatment to be the most effective, it should revolve around the child’s interests while sticking to a predictable schedule and teaching steps in a structured environment. These types of therapies are generally conducted by licenses psychologists, physical therapist, cognitive behavioral therapists, and/or psychotherapists.
Some children with Asperger’s benefit from medications. However, before deciding to allow your child to take prescription medication (or any other kind of medication), it’s important to talk to a physician about the potential side effects. Common medications include:
- Mood stabilizers for irritability, aggression, and outbursts
- Tricyclic antidepressants for impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and inattention
- SSRI medications for anxiety, obsessions, rituals, and preoccupation
The Link Between Cerebral Palsy and Asperger’s
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in coordination with the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDM), tracks the number of children of across the U.S. that have cerebral palsy, as well as autism. The organizations performed a study on 147,112 children. All were 8 years old with cerebral palsy. Results indicated that 7% of the children also had autism, with a high percentage being Asperger’s.
The results also show that children with cerebral palsy have a significantly higher chance of developing autism when compared to the the 1% of children in the U.S. with autism, who didn’t have cerebral palsy. Studies are still unclear of the medical link between cerebral palsy and Asperger’s, but a study published by the Department of Pediatrics, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, in Alberta, Canada, stated that there are “specific genetic variants” found in some children with cerebral palsy and children with autism.
Other physicians, such as child psychiatrist, Dr. Rudolf Brutoco, state that there’s “no common cause or physiology involved” with the link between cerebral palsy and Asperger’s. Yet, he also said that regardless, if both conditions are aggressively treated, children with cerebral palsy and Asperger’s can lead productive lives.